Last week, I had a customer pose an interesting question (although, at this point in the coronavirus scheiße-show, any question that isn’t, “Where’s your cold beer?” is interesting). The customer said, “I don’t like Rosé. What can you recommend for summer that isn’t Rosé?”
Rosé is still the it girl of summer drinking. Walk into any retail wine shop right now (ours included), and you’ll be greeted with some version of a Reach for Rosé / Rosé All Day display. And while I love a good Rosé, I’ll admit to a little Rosé fatigue.
So, what are some summer drinkers that aren’t Rosé?
Albariño is a deliciously nifty white wine from Rías Baixas (pronounced Rias Baishas), located in the northwestern corner of Spain. Rías Baixas is part of Spain’s Galicia region (aka Green Spain), which looks more like coastal Ireland than the rest of Spain.
Albariño is marked by high acidity, and intense citrus and floral notes. Often, there’s a slight saline quality to the wines (Rías Baixas is located right next to the Atlantic Ocean). You can taste the seashells. Seriously. Many of the vineyards in Rías Baixas are enriched with local seashells, so picking up on that flavor (think wet rocks) in the wine isn’t completely crazy. In fact, Albariño is often described as the ocean in a glass. It goes with everything . . . or nothing at all.
Albariño is universally food friendly, pairing beautifully with everything from seafood to chicken to cheese to Thursday.
My pick: Bodegas La Caña Albariño. My go-to seafood wine, and all-around “try something new” recommendation. Widely available. Glorious stuff. $15ish.
Vinho Verde (Portugal)
As far as countries go, Portugal is no giant — it’s roughly the size of Indiana. And yet, Portugal used to own half the world. Today, Portugal is one of the ten largest wine producing countries in the world. It has more vineyards in acerage than the US, and some of the best QPR (quality to price ratio) wines I’ve ever tried.
Vinho Verde is a wine that comes from a small region in northern Portugal. Vinho Verde translates literally to Green Wine, and is the name of a wine region, not a grape variety. Vinho Verde is usually a blended wine, made from a group of pretty obscure grapes — Alvarinho, Arinto, Avesso, Azal, Batoca, Loureiro and Trajadura. Vinho Verde can be red, white, or rose, but the vast majority is white (less than 10% is red, and rarely seen outside of Portugal).
Most Vinho Verde wines are dry and slightly spritzy, with refreshing acidity and citrus notes. They are always meant to be consumed young, within three years. Vinho Verde is a perfect match for any kind of seafood, and most of it is pretty cheap. Like under $15 cheap.
My pick: João Cabral Almeida Camaleão. It’s a little unusual in that it lacks the characteristic spritz of Vinho Verde. But it’s crisp, lightweight, and refreshing. Easy-peasy. $11ish.
One of my favorite summer whites . . . Txakoli (pronounced chalk-o-li) is a white wine from the Basque Region of Spain. The Basque Region is heavily influenced by cooling influences from the Atlantic Ocean, which makes the terroir there wildly different from the rest of Spain (hot and dry). Txakoli wines are made with the indigenous Hondarrabi Zuri grape — they’re refreshing, slightly spritzy, briny and tart, with flavors of lemon and rose. Txakoli wines can be a challenge to find in large retail wine shops, but worth seeking out in smaller stores or online.
Do yourself a favor and make a batch of gazpacho once all those summer veggies start coming into season, and pair it with this wine. Absolutely killer.
My pick: Ameztoi Getariako Txakolina. You’re supposed to pour this wine “from a height” into your glass to release the spritz. So damn interesting. $20ish. You can find retailers who carry this wine on wine-searcher.com.
Assyrtiko is a white grape indigenous to the Greek volcanic island of Santorini. The vines there are some of the oldest in Greece, and because the island is very dry and windy, the vines are trained into a distinct basket shape to shield the grapes from the elements. Assyrtiko’s superpower is the ability to retain its acidity in hot climates — and because of its high acidity level, it is capable of aging for several years. Citrus and stone fruit, with a significant wedge of salinity and a backbone of minerality.
Outstanding with seafood or literally any kind of Mediterranean food. I drink Assyrtiko with a block of feta cheese and call it dinner.
My pick: Gavalas Assyrtiko Santorini. One of the few (very few) wines in a blue bottle worth drinking. $20ish.
Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is very distinct. With its tell-tale grass and green veggie notes, it’s the wine everyone hopes for on a blind tasting exam. It’s also one of the world’s most polarizing wines — you either love it, or you hate it. I’m a lover. I’ve just recently rekindled my relationship with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. In the past, I’ve thought them a bit too generic — all grass, all the time. But with so many producers throwing down high quality, reasonably priced examples, it’s worth the revisit. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc has a grassy, herbal edge, sometimes inching awfully close to jalapeño, grapefruit for days, and yes, there’s that cat pee thing. It’s the perfect summer salad wine.
My pick: Loveblock Sauvignon Blanc. After Kim Crawford (of the über successful Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc) sold his eponymous winery to Constellation, he and his wife bought a vineyard near Marlborough and named it Loveblock. Under terms of the sale, the Crawford’s cannot use their surname to promote other wines. Loveblock wines are made by Kim Crawford, but he just goes by Kim. Kind of like Prince. $18ish.
Picpoul (aka Piquepoul) is a seriously underrated wine. It’s an ancient grape variety found in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France. The name translates literally to “stings the lip”, a nod to the wine’s high acidity.
All Picpoul de Pinet is bottled in a tall, slender green bottle called a Neptune. The bottle has three symbols on it — the waves of the sea around the neck of the bottle, the cross of Languedoc-Roussillon, and a column design along the base of the bottle as a nod to Roman Doric columns.
Picpoul has flavors of green apple, citrus, and distinctive green, herbal notes. It’s a dream with oysters.
My pick: Les Costieres de Pomerols Beauvignac Picpoul de Pinet. I’m not sure if it’s still the case, but they used to serve this particular Picpoul at The Inn at Little Washington. It’s my go-to cooking wine (because it’s $8, and totally drinkable on its own). Buy a case at that price.
Happy Summer & Salud!